Anime Central 2011

Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday | Photoshoots

There was a lot of chaos involved with planning for ACen this year. Somehow I wasn't a part of it. Evan had a new job and was unable to get off work, meaning he wouldn't be arriving until Friday night. Sarah gawked at all the listed photoshoots and packed just about everything on her active roster. And after meeting our team and seeing our set up at Anime Milwaukee, ACen kindly asked if they could borrow our video game room for the weekend. That was quite the undertaking.

Somehow I was able to dodge this. I would have to set up the table, but we were well prepared for that this time. There was Name That Anime Opening again, but that doesn't require more than a couple hours of preparation, most of that digging up new anime music to add to the collection. And this being my eighth ACen (and fortieth convention overall), I knew the lay of the land and brought extra food to munch on. In all, I expected to pretty much coast through it.

Paging Murphy. Paging Mr. Murphy. Please report to Rosemont, Illinois.

Bread Basket

Things started just fine. Sarah and I stopped by Mitsuwa along the way and we bought lots of bread and snacks. Ran into Deanna and Scott, as well as Mike B. and Crystal from Anime Milwaukee. Everything seemed to be going just fine. Taking Higgins Road to Rosemont proved eventful. While the drive isn't difficult, there's a lot of zigging and zagging as Higgins Road occupies other streets in Des Plaines. At some point, I either took a wrong turn or went straight when I should have zigged because we were suddenly driving south along the wrong side of the airport. Most of the wasted time was spent dumbfounded as to how we could have misplaced a major thoroughfare.

Still, we arrived and attempted to check into our hotel. Apparently, many of the rooms were vacated late and not all of them were available. While waiting, we ran into Jared, one of Nick F's friends and one of the top guys on ACen's panels staff. Good time to confirm details about picking up badges that I should have recalled from the e-mail they sent all of us days earlier. Once that was done, the concierge confirmed that our room was ready and we headed up to the seventh floor.

Only the room wasn't ready. Two maids were still changing the sheets. We shared a moment of mutual wrath towards the front desk, stashed our con bags in the closet and went to get the rest of our stuff, on the assumption that they would be finished by the time we got back.

They were... almost. It took a couple more minutes before they walked out... with our con bags. We assured them that those were ours and finally got into the room. Spiffy- we originally were only able to book a one-bed but this one had two. Given the mess so far, I wasn't about to report this error.

Then the actual occupants of the room showed up. They had checked us both into the same room.

We left Sarah in the room and headed back to the front desk. Turns out they screwed up and we actually had a one-bed on the third floor. Good thing we didn't get a chance to unpack.

This was my first time staying in the Hilton (after prior stays in the Hyatt, Doubletree, Crowne Plaza and that rat's nest we had in '05), and we quickly discovered one awful quirk: stair access was grossly limited at this hotel. We were required to take an elevator to the first floor and another from the first floor to the skywalk. These kinds of bottlenecks are always problems at ACen, and we cried just a little bit as we made our way through the rat maze to the Hyatt to collect some panelist badges and see how the video game room is progressing.

Contrary to what Jared had said an hour prior, panelist badges were not yet available, in part due to the annual "ACen F's Up Registration" issue...


Although they got their registration system to work on their computers... only one of those computers was actually operational. And like hell was Panels going to get it.

It's high-time for a picture, don't you think? This is Geek.Kon's half of the video game room. Yes- half. We were fully responsible for the half that wasn't arcade machines. The half that didn't really exist last year.

Keen eyes may also notice that this half is currently empty. The truck was still en route, and with it the banner that we needed to set up our exhibitor table.

Now zero for two at the Hyatt, we tried our luck at the exhibit hall and were thankfully allowed in to start setting up our table. Registration was still not moving, despite being 90 minutes after the gates were supposed to open. Typical.

Kitsune Kon was next to us, and they had cake. It looked yummy. I never got a chance to try it.

Once again, with only one working computer, if Panels wasn't going to have badges printed, imagine how far down the totem pole ambassador's alley badges are (that's not what they call it, but it's the same concept). This was problematic as Scott was relying on one of our complimentary badges in order to attend the convention. Deanna paid and received hers in the mail with no incident... far cry from 2007, eh?

Mitch also clued me in to their industry mixer, a shindig in the VIP lounge reserved for guests of honor, ACen's GR team and chairmen of other conventions. It's something Geek.Kon didn't hear about last year and we hadn't heard a peep about it until now. But after confirming the details with one of the exhibitor hall staffers, I got myself on the list for the event later that night. Then Sarah and I returned to the VG room to wait for our truck to arrive.

It's a truck! Only it's not ours... these are the arcade machines occupying the other half of the room.

Sarah camped out in the room while I went up to the top floor to mingle. It was a great view up top, similar to the revolving restaurant Anime Milwaukee used for their maid cafe. The clientele was a bit sparse at the top, with only Mitch, a few ACen guest staffers and Ryan of QC Anime-zing (et al). We mingled and talked insider staff stuff for about half an hour until I got the call from Sarah. Finally the truck had arrived.

At long last! The table is sort of complete. Still no badges though. In spite of that, not only were were able to use a shortcut in the skywalk to get into the room, nobody was monitoring the door. It was very curious.

With that done, Sarah went off with Deanna and Scott while I returned to the mixer. Now things were cooking! There were staffers all over the place and free appetizers. While I missed getting free drink tickets, other people did not and there was a pretty nice buzz in the room. I chatted up not only ACen, but had a chat with the chair of Northern Michigan Anime Convention, far more fun and jovial than you'd expect between two chairs with conventions on the same weekend. The real highlight was talking to folks from Youmacon, a Detroit con that seems to run things really well. Evan and I admire them from a distance and I discovered that their chair felt the same way about Geek.Kon and gave me some resources to potential awesomeness.

Strangely, despite running into Chris Cason in the lobby along the way, the only guests I spotted at the mixer were the contingency from Japan. That's cool and all, but it's awfully hard to network when you don't speak the language (in fact, last year's mixer started Kitsune Kon along the path to booking Chris Cason).

Didn't stop me from a bizarre run-in though. I was in a conversation with two of ACen's GR folks at the bar, mostly listening while nursing a Pepsi, when one of the Japanese guests walked up next to me and ordered a glass of wine. Then he turned to me, as the nearest fellow, and asked for a toast. He said "cheers." I said "kampai." He smiled and rejoined the rest of the group.

He was a member of Flow, performers of the first openings to Code Geass and Eureka 7 and two of the (better) openers from Naruto. I was dumbfounded.

The magic faded upstairs, so I rejoined the VG team, where the magic was slowly meshing together. My goal was primarily to take Evan's role in making sure we advertised the hell out of the room, which he and Mike had accounted for by buying a second, smaller banner made of laminated paper. It was identical to our big vinyl banner, but the side text didn't quite look right and it was unimpressive on the wall of the big room. Since the big guy was a little too much for our exhibitor table, Mike and I agreed that swapping was the best move. Which meant that I had to lug the small banner all the way back to the exhibit hall and make the exchange alone at about 10:00 pm.

Remember how I said they weren't guarding the doors leading out of the shortcut? Now they were guarding the doors leading out of the shortcut. And since I still didn't have a badge, I wasn't able to use the shortcut. In fact, they barely let me in through the front door. Sarah, who was supposed to meet me halfway, wasn't able to get in at all.

(Before anyone chalks that up to IRT throwing their weight around and yelling at people, I never got the impression that they were unprofessional. We ran into the IRT guy responsible later that night when he was off duty and he felt really bad about the whole thing and apologized, even though he was clearly just doing his job.)

No matter- banner's up! Chief does a happy dance. Now let's eat.

Seriously, none of the VG guys had a chance to eat dinner and I barely touched those appetizers- far too posh for my tastes. So we were starving and willing to do whatever it took to find food.

But first, the whole VG team came together to introduce each other. Between us and the additional arcade machines they were able to secure, ACen's VG head was awed by how awesome the room was going to be this year, and said as much.

Unfortunately, the promised reimbursements- free badges and a hotel room for our VG guys, wasn't quite materializing. While Red tried to take care of that mess, Sarah and I went up to panel ops to see if there was any chance that we could get into the club. Mike shrugged and pulled out the badge he had received in the mail weeks ago. This now appeared to be the only reliable means of attending Anime Central.

Wait... score! After much unnecessary confusion, Sarah and I finally get our panelist badges and we rejoin the VG rooms to find food.

Or not... the hotel dispute was becoming longer and more complicated as ACen put the wrong names down for Geek.Kon's complimentary room. They'd have to find something else for them.

In the meantime- Mugen! Josh demonstrates to a staffer the epic clash between Raptor and Butthead. I played around with their label maker, which transitioned into doing actual productive work labeling our TVs.

After an infinite wait, the gang finally headed out. Unfortunately, the only cars we had available were stuck in parking garages without in-out privileges. Which meant that we had to walk... at 11:30 pm. Have I mentioned that there are no fast food places within half a mile of the Hyatt?

Yes, we walked half a mile to McDonalds, determined to sate our hungers no matter the toll.

Finally, we saw it, jaywalked across River Road towards it, and stepped onto its hallowed pavement just in time to see the lights turn off. Damn place closed at midnight.

This is us exasperated beyond belief. We spent the next two minutes trying to think of more symbolic photographs using the actual building that wouldn't get us arrested.

Sad thing was that other people befell the same fate. They would have easily made their money back had they stayed open another 30 minutes.

Although we briefly considered following Higgins Road to see if any of the restaurants along that stretch would be open, but some quick research told us that they were more upscale joints that certainly wouldn't be on longer than McDonald's... even the pancake place. Don't pancake places exist solely for the 2 am crowd?

To make matters worse, as we started our hike back, some staffers from Anime Milwaukee walked out, including Mike B. It was the only time we've ever been maddeningly jealous of Anime Milwaukee.

After the long march back to the Hyatt, we were greeted with some good news: ACen had found a room for the VG crew. Granted it was one bed in the smoking section of the Doubletree, but they were willing to make it work.

...but we're still hungry.

Efforts to arrange a shuttle bus went nowhere, so after dropping Sarah off (as well as all their bags that had been piled up in the VG room), we departed again. This time to the south and the Denny's... also a half mile away!

By this point, the only thing that would have been more appropriate would have been if we were journeying towards White Castle. But then again, White Castle and late Thursday nights before conventions don't mix (ref: Ohayocon '08).

We strolled in at 1:30 am and the place was damn near packed. Turns out some of the other VG staffers had dropped by as well.

It didn't matter. We finally had our food, and because we wanted to make it count, most of us had something incorporating bacon. It was the best breakfast ever.

Although our stomachs were finally full, it was almost 3:00 am now and we all had to get up early because of that whole ACen thing going on. Mike called us a cab, specifically noting that there were six of us.

We got a regular Crown Victoria. We didn't care. Thankfully, neither did the driver.

One of these days, I'm going to have a late night food run at a convention that doesn't involve cramming a bunch of people into the back seat of a car. At least it didn't involve one of our guests this time.

I made the short walk back to the Hilton, went through both elevators and crashed in my room just after 3:00.

And to think, the convention hasn't even started yet.

Friday couldn't possibly be worse, could it?